In the wake of the global financial crisis, it was important for the international community to be “inventive and courageous” in considering optimal economic models in their efforts to create a stable economic culture that would produce equitable growth, the incoming President of the Thirteenth Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII) said in Doha, Qatar, today.
“We have to train ourselves to think differently,” emphasized Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage, as he addressed the high-level segment of UNCTAD XIII on the theme “Development-centred globalization: towards inclusive and sustainable growth and development”.
In a session chaired by Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser (Qatar), President of the United Nations General Assembly and addressed by several ministers as well as UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, Mr. Al-Kawari said the drawbacks of the current economic system had largely been ignored, but its problems were now evident, providing an opportunity to consider economic models that would include an ethical perspective. To help the United Nations provide a new financial model for the future, “we have to train ourselves to think differently”, he stressed.
Mr. Supachai, turning the discussion to the Arab region’s economic situation, warned participants not to look at growth alone in determining success in such areas as employment and inclusivity. While many Arab countries had experienced high growth rates, they had also retained high unemployment, causing severe dissatisfaction, he added.
Among those speaking after that statement, Tunisia’s Minister for Investment and International Cooperation said there was now an “awakening of new thinking” to counter the problems of inequitable growth, emphasizing the importance of ensuring transparency in order to hold major companies accountable for their fair share of taxes and other obligations. Good governance was critical for that purpose, he added.
Ministers from Ghana and Niger also spoke.
UNCTAD XIII will continue on Sunday, 22 April, with a special session followed by two round tables.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) continued its Thirteenth Ministerial Meeting this evening with a high-level segment on opportunities for equitable growth in the wake of the global economic crisis.
HAMAD BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-KUWARI, President of UNCTAD XIII, said the financial crisis had plagued the world since the last Meeting in Ghana four years ago. It was important to be inventive and courageous to make use of opportunities, while keeping in mind the lessons of the past. “Change can take place either by reaction or creating a programme that allows us to make change ourselves,” he said. For that purpose, a radically new vision of the world was needed, and it might be put into effect because of the economic crisis, which showed the problems of a financial structure lacking ethical considerations.
Previously, the world had ignored the drawbacks of the current economic system, although some had predicted it, he said. It was clear now that there were models that did not lead to sustainable, ethical development. Qatar had been able to adopt policies based on ethics, strong principles and equity, which were crucial for stability. The world, particularly the Arab region, was calling for credible, equitable development, he said, adding that Islamic banking principles had saved many in the region from the worst problems of the financial crisis. A new culture in multi-polar relations must be adopted and the resulting structures must be fair, he stressed. “We have to train ourselves to think differently” to help the United Nations provide a new financial model for the future, he said, asking participants to consider what the world would look like if a new model that addressed ethical matters was instituted, and how to bring that about.
SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, warned participants not to look at growth alone to determine success in such areas as employment and inclusivity. In that vein, he asked participants why the youth in Arab countries had such high unemployment despite educational opportunities. On the macroeconomic policies of the countries concerned, he asked whether the reforms that had been instituted, making the countries cost-competitive and keeping inflation down, had produced the right result in reducing poverty. There was a need to focus on growth with employment, he emphasized, noting that inequality had become a focus because growth had not produced enough good jobs.
HANNAH TETTEH, Minister for Trade and Industry of Ghana, said her country had seen major economic growth over the past two years. Touching on several points of similarity between Ghana and the Arab world, she said that, because investments in the Ghanaian oil sector did not in themselves create jobs until new investments were made in the productive economy, greater focus was needed on providing jobs for young people. Countries must consider the next generation, which should be engaged before its anger translated into scenes such as the protests seen over the past year.
It was also critical to examine not just the national economic context, but also the regional one, she continued. In that regard, the African region would focus more heavily on inter-African trade this year. “We can only assume that the world is going to get more transparent and not less,” she added, noting that the tools of information and communications technology would continue to make leadership around the world more accountable. States must work harder to support enterprise development, build business opportunities and provide other support to their people.
SALAH SAIDOU, Minister for Commerce, Development and the Private Sector of Niger, said that in view of the fact that most unemployed people were young, it was critical to identify productive sectors that would create wealth and employment while training young people for jobs. Existing enterprises should be consolidated and new ones encouraged in the most productive sectors for employment, he said, adding that the cost of setting up private enterprises should be reduced for that purpose, and the right structure of financing put in place. Public-private partnerships were important in that context, he stressed, pointing out that his landlocked country, which suffered climate-related issues, had established a three-year programme to promote entrepreneurship in agriculture and manufacturing. By creating appropriate conditions, more than 50,000 new jobs had been created.
RIADH BETTAIEB, Minister for Investment and International Cooperation of Tunisia, pointed to the current “sea change” in which countries were finally demanding dignified standards of living. While capital had long fled countries as a result of corrupt regimes, there was now an awakening of new thinking and new claims of freedom. However, a major challenge was that while transnational corporations were the source of 80 per cent of the world economy, their earnings did not filter down to the people. As a result, development models did not help people meet their aspirations. In that context, a legal framework for good governance was needed, as was a road map for the way forward. Calling for an end to tax havens that “siphon off wealth and leave people in dire poverty”, he stressed the need to ensure transparency so as to hold major companies responsible for their actions.
Following those statements, heads of delegations made wide-ranging comments and asked questions of the panellists. The representative of Egypt said the causes of protests in the Arab world were not only economic, but also political.
The representative of the Russian Federation requested perspectives on regional economic groups, while his counterpart from Viet Nam stressed the importance of economic integration and sharing best policies to help countries face economic challenges.
The representative of the League of Arab States noted that economic problems had worsened in those countries that had recently experienced revolutions, while inequitable earlier growth had not touched all sectors. There was therefore a need for a drive for greater economic equality, with support from the international community and all Arab countries for efforts towards that end as well as to mitigate some of the economic effects of the “Arab Spring”.
Representatives of Iran and Zambia also spoke.
Mr. SUPACHAI said UNCTAD was working with many countries to help direct investment into sectors that created jobs, including some affected by the Arab Spring. The promotion of entrepreneurship, aid-for-trade programmes, best use of sovereign funds and the “demographic dividend” that could be provided by a youthful population would all be addressed during UNCTAD XIII, he said.